Gluten-free dairy-free, naturally sweetened/low sugar PB & J Bars

It’s May Day tomorrow, which makes me about a month late. Meaning, I missed out on sharing these for National PB & J Day April 2nd. Then again, while I may not blasted any well wishes for the occasion on social media or otherwise, I’m pretty sure I celebrated, possibly too heartily.
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Preceding National PB & J Day, National Peanut Butter Lovers’ Day took place March 1st this year. I’m awfully certain I subconsciously celebrated that one, too. Since I’ve known him, Dave has always marveled at Americans’ love for peanut butter. I can’t say I know where that stereotype came from, but I do know I’ve only reinforced it. Lately though, peanut butter love has been markedly full-blown. I’ve been craving it on celery, on apple slices, in oatmeal, and straight from the jar. In fact, those first three may really be mostly compromise to keep the urge to indulge in that last one at bay. 

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There are always food phases that come and go, mostly with the seasons, and holidays. Like right now, when we’re all easing out weekly soup nights and transitioning to staple salad dinners. And who doesn’t swoon a little bit at the heady scent of a pumpkin spice latte in October? But peanut butter…really I’ve been a little crazy (ok, nutty) for all nuts recently, and I think that’s an offshoot of experimental vegan purity for the past month or so. Except for honey, which is still a weekly feature including in this recipe, I’ve been much more strict, and it feels good. I don’t really have any way to measure any impact nor a baseline to compare. Our scale is broken, and I wasn’t feeling bad/excessively tired without explanation/grumpy before. I can’t say I’m gliding on new enriched energy, but I definitely don’t feel worse; I felt good before this trial and I still do. Mentally and emotionally, though, it does feel gratifying to do something delicious that happens to reduce my carbon footprint compassionately.

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As for these bars: they are everything they should be. Chewy and jammy centers, and crumbly and nutty all around. They’d be great actually crumbled, in fact–over oatmeal or (vegan) ice cream. This recipe has a whole lot of “ORs” in it. Like, 3 cups quinoa flakes OR 1 1/2 cups oats with 1 1/2 cups quinoa flakes OR 3 cups oats. You can get away with 2 T honey OR 1/4 cup honey OR even no honey OR maple syrup.Originally I made these for Ancient Harvest, using quinoa flakes only instead of oats, and 2 eggs. I can say I think I do prefer the egg-less version, and using Bob’s Red Mill egg replacer over flax eggs. Since my little sis gave me a bag as a stocking stuffer, I really have become very fond of that pea protein concoction.  Overall, however, you really can’t go too very far astray when it comes to what is basically a just crunchy ball of peanut butter and jam.

Obviously, a recipe is always a guide and all those options are to be intuited or inferred, but in this case I’ve tried each little variation and approve so well I couldn’t cut back. Because, nuttiness lately…tell me what you change…or even would like to try out one day. I can promise there is a very good chance I will test the idea out for you. 😉

 

PB & J Bars
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups quick oats
  2. 1 1/2 cups quinoa flakes
  3. 1 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  4. 2 tablesoons Bob's Red Mill egg replacer mixed in 4 T water OR 2 flax eggs OR 2 eggs
  5. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 2 tablespoons OR ¼ cup honey
  7. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  8. ¼ teaspoon salt (unless using salted peanut butter)
  9. ⅔ cup fruit only jam or jelly of choice
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl combine oats, quinoa flakes, peanut butter, egg substitute, baking soda, vanilla, and salt and mix well.
  3. Press a little over half of the batter into an 8 X 8 baking pan lightly coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Use a rubber spatula to spread jam over mixture. (Soften jam as needed in a saucepan or microwave to help with spreading.) Crumble remaining mixture over jam layer as topping.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, until topping is browned and jam layer is bubbly. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Gluten-free vegan cinnamon date “blondie” bars (date-sweetened)

Lately there’s been an especially annoying and annoyingly persistent refrain caught in my brain–that awful Cookie Jar chant. You know the one. Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? [X] stole the cookies from the cookie jar… I don’t have a particularly good reason to particularly dislike that rhyming name game, but I do. The reason it’s stuck there is a little bit more endearing if somewhat problematic, in that little F has been taking to helping himself from the cookie tin housed in the freezer. Once, we thought that purchasing a new fridge with a large freezer drawer on the bottom would be useful in warding off snack sneaking, but no, it’s not. There are certainly conversations that need be had, rules and boundaries to be discussed. Yet there is a big, admiring, mushy part of me that wants to indulge our little big boy in every independent, empowered initiative to meet his own needs, including this one.

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My accommodating nature and his nibbling cause are mutually fed, literally I guess, by the fact that for the moment our attempts at healthy messaging around treats and sugars seem to be sinking in. “No more sugar for you today, Daddy,” F will say with surprising regularity whenever Daddy’s caught snagging an extra snack. “If you eat too much sugar, you gonna be sick and your body gonna be confused.” It seems counterintuitive to reward such observations by being all the more lax on self-guided cookie ventures, but gee.

Another factor chiseling away at resolve to be more firm is that the cookie tin, which is actually rather small, is typically filled with these healthy grain-free sugar cookies from Chocolate Covered Katie. Or a vegan variation of these, which I created for Madhava. And right now, it’s loosely packed with these, date-sweetened, just a bit chewy, gluten free and vegan ‘blondie’ bars I had sifting around in my mind for awhile and finally got to try.  

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For someone who makes a point of trying
not to eat cookies too often and goes to fairly significant lengths to make sure treats are on the healthy (for treats) side, I seem to have established a longstanding reputation for having a stash pile of cookies. Pre-parenting, our house was a routine stop-by for friends who routed long bike rides specifically to include a snack break from the freezer. When little F was born, the baking took a sharp downturn for a good while. But then my little sous chef got into mixing, measuring, stirring and baking with me…and there you go. The freezer was back in action as a (healthy-for-cookies) cookie trove.

Bars (4 of 6)

These were originally meant to be a makeover of these quinoa cinnamon toffee bars I made for Ancient Harvest and loved when tasted but didn’t eat. They’re not dairy-free, for one thing. I had a few adaptations in mind, but before long the tweaks piled up so much there was barely any resemblance to the first version and walah! Whole new cookie. (In case you’re wondering, yes I just thought it would be fun to say/write ‘walah’.) They’re rather guiltless, and yummy. Superb fresh from the oven, with that gooey meltaway chocolate quality; and they hold up amazingly well in the freezer. They may even be best–once the straight from the oven time has passed–straight from the freezer.

Chat wedding practice (3 of 5)There was a moment the other week while we were both still sick when I just collapsed in a mire of loneliness, negativity, and feeling sorry for myself. Everything was on hold. We were so cooped up. I hit such a low point that, looking over at my conked out child lying next to me on the bed, I felt the words pulse quietly against my brain, “This you-and-me alone deal is just not enough.” And as soon as the thought made its presence known, I recanted it. Truly, just then this diaphanous turning-point kind of ray of light glimmered into the room, kissing little F’s face; he opened his eyes and smiled, and out poured bright, loving energy that just flooded me.

Yeah, I was tired and prone to being overly emotional with every emotion all at once, but it was moving. You are absolutely, without question, more than enough, all by yourself, and always, my heart said to him. But it also managed to slip me a quiet revelation that one day, I need to be enough all by myself, too. I’m not sure I ever even felt quite that way before motherhood. It’s good to have goals.

Right now, I am so enjoying living in the fullness that is mostly this amazing little person, with nearly every choice I make, professionally, socially, and emotionally, pivoting around him. Right now, it’s enough to consciously work one day at a time at one day feeling enough as just me, myself. And trust that as time continues to flow that I will at least find solace in evolving reasons to keep a freezer stash of (healthy) cookies.

Gluten-free vegan cinnamon date “blondie” bars
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup pitted dates (Medjool are amazing, but any)
  2. ⅓ cup plus 1 Tablespoon orange juice or water
  3. 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons flax meal/ground flax in 5 tablespoons water)
  4. ½ cup almond butter (sunbutter will work, too)
  5. ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  6. 1 cup chickpea flour
  7. ¾ cup quick oats
  8. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  9. 2 flax eggs or eggs
  10. ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  11. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  12. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  13. ½ tp ¾ cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Combine dates and water or orange juice in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a low boil; cook 10 minutes, stirring, or until most liquid is absorbed. If desired, pulse in a food processor until reaching a fairly smooth, jam-like consistency.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray or parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Transfer date mixture to a large mixing bowl and whisk in flax eggs. Add almond butter and mix until well mixture is smooth.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients to bowl, stirring to combine. Spoon batter (will be thick) into prepared pan and spread out until smooth and even. Bake for 20 minutes, or until edges are slightly puffed and browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes before cutting and serving.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Gluten free, dairy free gingerbread cutout cookies (vegan option)

We’re five days out from Christmas, and our tiny kitchen has been basking in holiday baking merriment, whirling in cookie rolling flurries, and pulsating with disproportionate stressing over keeping to a baking schedule. The yields from all this activity? Gingerbread, (almost) exclusively. Gingerbread people, stockings, trees, and stars, once cooled whisked into packages or freezer for gifting.

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Last year I made no less than six varieties of holiday cookies, mostly for a merrily scrumptious recipe project. This year, I’ve looked on admiringly with a touch of envy at friends’ Insta-feed’s spectacular cookie assortment displays.

Not that there hasn’t been variety within our gingerbread parades. We started with this gluten free, vegan recipe I created for Ancient Harvest last year. Then I found this marvelous, perfect recipe from Cookie and Kate, which turned out beautifully using One Degree Organics’ sprouted whole wheat (2 cups) and sprouted rye (1 cup) flours. Finally, this mash-up of the two, which was splendid. I’m sure chickpea or your favorite gluten free flour blend would do as well as the quinoa. For vegan cookies, just replace the egg with one flax egg (1 tablespoon flax meal with 2.5 tablespoon water) and add in 1/4 cup almond butter. If you’d prefer nut-free, you can afford to lose the almond butter. I just think it gives a little helpful boost of solidness.

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But the real difference in all these gingerbread batches has been in the spirit of the baking. 

Last week, we spent just under a week on the east coast for an early Christmas with my family. It was a quick, packed, lovely week and we all came back cranky. Maybe there was a little big of post-holiday anticlimax happening, despite returning to our tree, lights displays, a string of more holiday fun to look forward to. Maybe it was hormones (mine). Most likely it was the snowball effect that time zone adjustments, lost sleep, excitement, lots of stimuli, and the roller coaster of being three can have on a little person, and the ensuing impact of that little person’s big feelings on their big people’s emotions. In any case, we were all rather crabby in spurts, especially me. 

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What made the humbugginess sting a little more was guilt that came with reminders that for many, this is a season of sadness; when even focusing on loving and giving comes packaged with the painful ache of loss and longing. Three days into curmudgeonly impatience, and conscious shake-off steps needed to be taken.

ice-skateSo today little F and I had a perfect day, sprinkled with the best of lovable imperfections.

Early in the morning, little F and I sorted through clothes and bundled up a stack to take to the OUR Center, an amazing local resource providing a range of individualized, personal support for people in need. It was just a quick, friendly drop-off, but afterward I heard Little F telling Monkey in the car, “Monk, some kids don’t have toys. Some kids don’t have warm clothes. Some kids don’t have food, Monk.” If that didn’t get my grinchy heart back to it’s usual size…I’d be lying if I even suggested it. He is listening came the thought, leaving me renewed with bubbling gratitude for my magical, inquisitive, can-do determined sometimes-threenager. 

After, we went ice skating. 

And we baked cookies. More “ginger-man” cookies–therapeutic, giggle-inducing while at the same time calming cookies. Rolling the dough, cutting our the shapes…it was a timely throwback to the simple joy of playdough, and it was just what I needed. We dusted with coconut sugar “sprinkles” and pressed in raisin eyes, mouths, and buttons. It’s an obvious irony, how the holidays enfold us with repeated messages of what they’re all about…peace, love, togetherness…and at the same time sweep us up into frenzied motions that leave us mentally at the opposite pole. Today the message resonated. Today we stopped and smelled the cookies. Happy holidays, friends!

Gluten-free, dairy-free (vegan option) gingerbread cutout cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 3 cups quinoa flour, plus additional for rolling
  2. ½ teaspoon baking powder
  3. ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  4. pinch salt
  5. 2 tsp ground ginger
  6. 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  7. 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  8. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  9. 1/2 cup packed brown or coconut sugar
  10. ½ cup blackstrap molasses
  11. 1/2 cup liquid coconut oil OR 1/4 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup olive oil
  12. 1 egg OR for vegan option, 1 tablespoon ground flax meal mixed with 2 ½ tablespoons warm water (*also suggest adding 1/4 cup almond butter for vegan version)
Instructions
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix brown or coconut sugar, molasses, coconut and olive oils and beat on a low with a mixer to thoroughly blend. Beat in egg or flax egg and almond butter.
  3. Gradually add flour to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Chill one hour or overnight.* (I don't actually always bother to chill the dough, and the cookies have held shape just fine.)
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper. Carefully roll out dough on a floured surface to approximately ¼ inch thickness, sprinkling the top of the dough with flour as needed before rolling.
  6. Carefully cut dough into desired shapes. Place on baking sheet one inch apart. Sprinkle with coconut sugar and decorate with raisins if desired.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies appear only slightly browned on the edges. Let cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar or ice if desired.
Adapted from Cookie and Kate's Healthy Gingerbread Cookies
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Vegan chia chocolate chip cookies

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Should I be feeling guilty over the inherent laziness in what is essentially a re-post…again? If yes, then maybe I can bake you some of these and all will (hopefully) be forgiven. Or maybe not. I’ve been marveling recently at the satisfying effectiveness of consciously bringing mindful eating behaviors to the table, literally. Food tastes better and less is more satiating. These cookies could threaten to hijack the zen from my personal slow food movement experiment at home. 

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I love the concept of mindful eating, and generally would have thought myself to abide by the principles. Except a few weeks ago, I started to catch myself enacting certain habits I hadn’t realized I’d created over the past few busy years, like racing through dinner to get on with clean-up before Little Chef bedtime routines, or grabbing handfuls of food on the fly. Slowing down and checking in with myself refreshed energy levels I hadn’t even noticed had gone stagnant. I’ve been a little awed by the power of being just that little bit more conscious, since. 

Then there are these cookies. They’re just so scrumptious. Easy to relish slowly, but just as  easy to gobble…a little bit tougher to keep from relishing too much, maybe.

I loved the original version, but I haven’t been baking them. Because, despite how it may appear, we don’t eat cookies that much. And while the originals are “healthier” than your typical cookies, they aren’t even close to being as close to actually healthy as other also yummy options.   

 

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Rather than ramble about all the things behind the ‘why’of not baking chia chip cookies…back to this vegan variation. My friend Angie had a surplus of chia seeds and kindly gave us a jar. Her husband further graciously blew out our sprinklers. And I wanted to experiment with vegan chocolate chip cookies because, fun. See where this is going? I wasn’t sure whether subbing in two flax eggs for one real egg would work, or if a coconut and olive oil combination would beat out butter, but what came out of the oven was divine. Better than the original, even. 

I used One Degree Organic’s sprouted whole wheat flour for these. Since discovering their quality, sprouted whole grain, organic flours about a year ago, I’ve been using them almost exclusively…the *almost* being for the notable exceptions of chickpea and almond flours (which aren’t carried by the brand). Baking with these quality flours, we experienced immediate benefits like (significantly) better digestion and delicately enhanced taste and improved texture of baked goods.  Over the course of the year, I’ve learned so much more about the health benefits that come from carefully sourced, trusted grains, as well as from thoughtful methods. Sprouting, for instance, naturally unlocks nutrients, making them readily available and easily digested. Sprouted grains seem to deliver a special lightness and milder, but more delicious flavor, too. 

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Little things making a big difference is common knowledge enough to be cliché , which is maybe part of why the impact of those little things still comes as such a pleasant surprise. Mindful eating, sprouted grains. Slashing back on smartphone time…may as well throw that in there, being both tough and worthwhile enough.  And cookies. Sometimes you just can’t underestimate the power of a cookie for brightening a day. 🙂

Vegan whole wheat chia chocolate chip cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 3/4 cup rolled oats
  2. 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  3. 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  4. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  5. 1/4 cup liquid coconut oil
  6. 1/4 cup olive oil
  7. 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  8. 1/3 cup brown sugar
  9. 2 flax eggs egg (2 tablespoons flax meal in 5 tablespoons water)
  10. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  11. 1 cup dark chocolate pieces or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a large baking sheet with cooking spray, parchment paper or silpat.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking soda and chia seeds.
  3. In a small saucepan combine olive and coconut oils, coconut sugar, brown sugar, flax eggs and vanilla; stir to combine and add to dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in chocolate pieces or chips.
  5. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls, at least 1 inch apart, onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies until firm around the edges and golden on top, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Vegan chickpea brownies (gluten-free, naturally sweetened)

So it’s kind of obvious I’ve been on a dangerously delicious kick with “healthy considering it’s [X]” but not exactly light experiments. If only you knew just how many of those experiments have only been posted thus far in my mind, the little wisps of anxiety behind the “dangerous” part would totally make sense. Once again I have a stack of kitchen fun worth sharing, but my time available for writing has been largely deadline-oriented (in a really good way, just not for posting). But this recipe…these vegan, gluten free, lower sugar brownies naturally sweetened with maple syrup and coconut sugar: they’ve been begging to be shared for literally week…and they are soooo good! Tonight, in a quiet frenzy of power cleaning the bathroom after Little Chef went to sleep, it occurred to me that too many days had already flown by since promising to post the recipe “soon”. I thought, even if I ended up simply slapping up the blogger’s equivalent of a post-it note and ingredients list, it would be a worthy task, tonight, and so here you go…
 
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I’ve experimented with quiet a few variations on brownies over the years since we’ve cut out dairy, and while many have been amazingly good, nothing has come so close as these to that Dunkin Hines-from-the-box brownie that, let’s face it, is pretty enticing if only in a throwback sort of way. These, though. They are just so yummy, batter and baked, and the texture is very convincing, too, despite the absence of refined sugar and use of natural sweeteners. 
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It hadn’t really crossed my mind to make brownies, for months upon months, when my friend and former teaching teammate (from…a decade ago, already?!) Tracy texted asking about vegan brownie options for her beautiful inside-and-out,  and recently turned vegan, daughter Tori’s birthday. I met Tori when she was turning 8 years old. Now she’s newly 18, and so lovely, compassionate, and wise. She is the kind of person I wish I had had the maturity, strength and confidence to be at her age.  Of course, I had to launch into a fury of enthusiasm for exploring vegan browniedom. For Tori. (I don’t think Tracy regretted consulting with me, but on the same token I’m pretty sure she hadn’t anticipated quite what she was in for.) In other words, I made and ate and gave away scrumptious brownies for a greater cause than the fact that I have recently remembered that I do in fact like brownies, very much. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy these too. 🙂
Chickpea flour brownies (gluten-free, vegan, naturally sweetened)
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Ingredients
  1. 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  2. 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (dark is best)
  3. 1/4 cup natural, unsalted almond butter
  4. 2 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  5. 3/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
  6. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  7. 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  8. 1/2 cup chickpea/garbanzo flour
  9. 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons flax meal in 5 tablespoons water)
  10. 1/3 cup vegan chocolate or dark chocolate chips
  11. 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk the coconut oil, maple syrup, almond butter, and applesauce together until smooth and caramel-like.
  2. Whisk in cocoa powder and flour 1/4 cup at a time. Add baking soda.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  4. Pour into an 8 inch square pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 325 F for 20-25 minutes.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/
 

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